What this journal needs is more controversy - Livre d'Or

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What this journal needs is more controversy
Wednesday, 14 January 2009 at 02:44 pm
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This is based on several discussions I've taken part in recently, both on LJ and offline. My options are deliberately inadequate because I'm more interested in discussion in the comments than in the actual vote counts.

Poll #1330975 Mars and Venus

The differences between men and women are: A



Objectively real


A product of particular culture
Invariable for the whole of humanity

When deciding how to treat men and women, we should:

Base decisions on the way things are, even if that is unfair.
Be as fair and just as possible, even if that means going against biology.

In the society I'm part of:

It's better to be a man
It's better to be a woman
Women and men have different experiences, but neither is obviously better or worse
It doesn't make an important difference

In my own personal life:

I am advantaged by being a man
I am advantaged by being a woman
I am disadvantaged by being a man
I am disadvantaged by being a woman
It doesn't make much difference


Binary gender assumptions ate my grandparent, you insensitive clod!

PS I don't have time for nature versus nurture arguments; it's part of human biology that we are members of societies, so it's natural that we are subject to social pressure.

PPS There are various flavours of genderqueer and trans folk reading this journal, as well as people with a whole spectrum of opinions about feminism, so try not to be more offensive than you can help.

Whereaboooots: Älvsjö, Stockholm, Sweden
Moooood: mischievousmischievous
Tuuuuune: Placebo: I do
Discussion: 66 contributions | Contribute something
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shreena: default
Date:January 14th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
4 minutes after journal entry, 01:57 pm (shreena's time)
I'm tired and overworked today so possibly it's just that but I didn't understand what the "When deciding how to treat men and women, we should.." question and its response options meant. Having clicked onto it, it wouldn't then let me leave it blank which, since I didn't understand the question, I would rather have done!
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livredor: ewe
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
33 minutes after journal entry, 02:26 pm (livredor's time)
Yeah, it's annoying that you can't unselect a radio button, sorry about that. Let me try to explain the question a bit more clearly, though. Supposing you were convinced there was a major innate difference between men and women. You could either say, well, that's pretty unfair, but it's not my fault, it's just the way the world is, so I'm going to treat men and women differently and give women fewer rights politically; or you could say, I don't care if women are naturally weaker than men, they should have equal rights, and if that means positive discrimination to make sure they are just as likely to get jobs they're less good at, that's the price we pay for making things fair. Obviously those two positions are extreme, but I was deliberately writing a poll with little nuance.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
(no subject) - shreena (1/14/09 02:38 pm)
(no subject) - lavendersparkle (1/14/09 03:10 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 03:36 pm)
(no subject) - lavendersparkle (1/14/09 03:33 pm)
feanelwa: default
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:00 pm (UTC)
7 minutes after journal entry, 02:00 pm (feanelwa's time)
But I WANT to pick BOTH! I think differences between individuals are much bigger than differences between men and women, e.g. the difference between somebody stupid and somebody intelligent are bigger than the difference in average intelligence scores between men and women so that really there is not a lot of point comparing the effect of gender especially at one tail or another. But then people do IQ tests in a society that dresses them in pink and sells them stupid-looking dolls and tells them their hair is more important than their brain on the way to the test room, also I don't think IQ tests actually test much at all.

As a woman in physics, the thing that REALLY bites me in the arse is that the whole system of how people do research is set up for people with wives to follow them around the world producing babies wherever they are without complaint and build a bubble of comfort around them. Would not mind a wife but I still think the whole thing is fundamentally shit.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: ewe
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
44 minutes after journal entry, 02:37 pm (livredor's time)
OK, I've recently read a book about eugenics, and it convinced me that IQ tests are utter, utter bullshit, regardless of what you think about gender or race or anything else. But to some extent, it is vaguely possible to tell how intelligent someone is, so your argument still applies. And yes, I agree with you that "both" would be a better answer, I wanted to make people choose so that either I'd get some results, or I'd get people arguing with me for making my poll too binary. In other words, yes, there are differences on average between men and women but huge overlaps between the two populations, and yes, it's also true that the sexist society we live in massively exaggerates those differences.

I think a lot of jobs, particularly white collar and academic jobs, are predicated on the assumption that you pay people for 40 hours a week, and actually get about 120 hours out of them. The ideal employee has a "wife", so he can afford to work 80 hour weeks or longer, because he doesn't need to spend time cooking or housekeeping or even just destressing, because someone's working at least full time if not more to look after him. I happen to think this is unfair to everyone; even men who do have devoted wives shouldn't be expected to do two people's work just to keep their heads above water. It's unfair to women because they're either expected to do the unpaid and largely unrecognized labour of wifing, or else they're just not competitive in the workplace because even the most liberated of women with the most enlightened of partners doesn't have a wife. I reckon that if a company needs three people's labour to keep going, they ought to be paying three sets of wages, not exploiting people or assuming that they are paying for a wife as well as an employee.
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(no subject) - midnightmelody (1/14/09 02:52 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 03:13 pm)
(no subject) - midnightmelody (1/14/09 03:33 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 06:19 pm)
(no subject) - midnightmelody (1/14/09 07:05 pm)
(no subject) - leora (1/14/09 08:36 pm)
(no subject) - midnightmelody (1/14/09 08:44 pm)
(no subject) - feanelwa (1/14/09 03:08 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 06:24 pm)
ixwin: default
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
30 minutes after journal entry, 02:23 pm (ixwin's time)
(clarification to my answer that I'm advantaged by being a woman in my personal life) As the primary carer of two young children, it's a lot easier to be a woman - the playgroups etc. I go to are overwhelmingly female-dominated, and also because it's considered the norm for a woman to be the stay-at-home parent, I don't have to be forever explaining/justifying myself as I imagine a man in the same situation would be.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
46 minutes after journal entry, 02:39 pm (livredor's time)
Yeah, that's a very good point. That's exactly why I wanted to separate society in general from individual experiences. It's perfectly possible for a situation to be unfair to women overall, but to be advantageous for a particular woman who wants to do womanly things, or who gets lots of extra support to help her overcome disadvantages in a male-dominated field.
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(no subject) - dampscribbler (1/14/09 03:52 pm)
(no subject) - cakmpls (1/14/09 05:10 pm)
naath: default
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
40 minutes after journal entry, 02:33 pm (naath's time)
I can think of not one "characteristic" that of the people I know only men or only women possess. So I think any "difference" can only by statistical in nature; there are some differences that are more significant than others for instance it is overwhelmingly likely that a person with a penis is male.

In terms of what tasks people do in the wider world I do think you have to go with what is actually possible; and that is going to mean that 99.9999999% of the porn stars with penises will be men - but I think that if you are hiring a person then you should decide based on that person's abilities, if you have met a non-op transwoman who wants to act as a man in porn (and who can look the part) then I don't think you should refuse to hire her because she is a woman but neither should you make a law that says that 50% of men in porn must be played by women. Said non-op transwoman is also going to need a range of medical services usually used by men - she should not be denied access to, eg, prostrate cancer screening on account of being a woman although the NHS probably do not need to go around advertising prostrate cancer screening services to women.

We should treat people as the people they are; not assume that they are statistically average for their gender.
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wychwood: due South - Fraser genderfuck
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
49 minutes after journal entry
We should treat people as the people they are; not assume that they are statistically average for their gender.

I don't even think I have enough words to explain how much I agree with this statement.
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(no subject) - cartesiandaemon (1/15/09 10:58 am)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 02:45 pm)
(no subject) - naath (1/14/09 02:52 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 06:29 pm)
(no subject) - elemy (1/15/09 10:22 pm)
(no subject) - naath (1/14/09 02:56 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 06:34 pm)
(no subject) - feanelwa (1/14/09 02:57 pm)
(no subject) - naath (1/14/09 02:57 pm)
(no subject) - cartesiandaemon (1/15/09 10:59 am)
(no subject) - livredor (1/16/09 03:20 pm)
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
52 minutes after journal entry
I voted, but I wasn't happy with any of the questions. In particular, the real answer for my sub-culture is "the two defined gender roles have roughly equal rights and responsibilities, but the fact that you don't get to choose between them (or forge your own synthesis) undermines this fairness".
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
Date:January 14th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
57 minutes after journal entry, 02:50 pm (livredor's time)
Mm, good point. I was trying to cover that option with different, but not obviously better or worse. But I agree with you that even if two options are truly equal in value, it's unfair if you personally are stuck with the option that doesn't suit you. On this basis, I think even highly sexist societies can be miserable places for some men, the ones who don't fit well into a male role, even if that role gives them objective advantages.
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(no subject) - siderea (1/14/09 05:58 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 06:37 pm)
miss_next: default
Date:January 14th, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
Thinking about some points raised in some of the comments, I believe the following:

1. It is manifestly not fair for anyone to expect someone in a paid job to work far more than the hours for which they are theoretically paid, on the understanding that there will be someone else there (who is not being paid) to look after that person. There are ways round it - I know a married couple who are both researchers and take turns being in the office and looking after their three children, taking full advantage of the flexibility to work at home - but if the underlying situation were not unfair, there wouldn't have to be workarounds to make it fair.

2. But on the other hand, if someone chooses to make a career of looking after their family, they shouldn't be looked down on for doing so... and I think this can happen sometimes. It is absolutely not something anyone should be forced into, but if they do it voluntarily, then it is a great gift to their family and to society, and they should receive - at the very least - enormous respect. This applies just as much to men as to women.

Given the right person (and the right person only), I would personally be quite happy to give up my current job in order to look after him. This is not a fashionable attitude. However, it doesn't mean that I am somehow reactionary, or anti-feminist, or think that all women ought to be prepared to act in the same way. It simply means that that is what I would be comfortable with, with a side order of lack of job satisfaction at the moment. If I were at home looking after a husband, I'd have time to a) be more creative (I get hardly any writing done at the moment) and b) do a bit of voluntary work, which wouldn't pay but would be far more satisfying.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
Date:January 14th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry
Cue Ethan of Athos, where the protagonist decides that the other worlds can have large population growth because they systemically cheat caregivers out of their appropriate compensation.

(Exact reference: Go to search inside, look up the word "accounting" pick the reference on page 78, then start from the bottom of page 77.
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(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 07:26 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (1/14/09 07:23 pm)
(no subject) - miss_next (1/14/09 07:48 pm)
syllopsium: default
Date:January 14th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
I can't really indicate what I actually think with the poll, and some of my answers might be marginally surprising considering my history.

Still, despite the extensive amount of discussion I've had with people of all gender variations I believe that many stereotypes hold and that there are, on average, differences between 'men' and 'women'. The cause of this is not especially relevant in the short to medium term.

As a general principle I dislike the binary gender that society tries to enforce and believe a whole lot of people would be less unhappy with their gender or sex if they only realised how much variance there is with happy, well adjusted cisgender (same gender as the sex you were born) people.

It's therefore reasonable to try and treat men and women according to some of the (less offensive) stereotypes, then adjust to the individual person. My perception is that despite the stereotype there are still many exceptions to the rule, and also that people who do follow the stereotype not infrequently preferred to be treated stereotypically rather than being exposed to different treatment and therefore theoretically having to examine their own gender role.

I'm not entirely certain if my own personal life is particularly affected by my sex (there are advantages/disadvantages for both in my social situation), overall in general society I expect it probably is.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
Date:January 14th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 07:36 pm (livredor's time)
Thanks, this is an interesting comment. You always have good stuff to say about gender / feminism discussions. It's clearly true that any differences are at best statistical; everybody knows someone who's an exception to any rule. But just because the typical mould doesn't fit everyone, doesn't mean that there's no such thing as typical. The question is, what do you do about a situation where you can make certain predictions based on gender, but they don't apply to everyone and you want to be as fair as possible?

You have a very good point that the assumption that the situation is absolutely binary can be as much of a problem as acknowledging that there are some broad, general differences. I hadn't thought of the idea that people might prefer to be treated like "typical" men or women, even if they're not completely typical, because of the fear of having to question their own gender. I think that's an acute observation in many situations.
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dampscribbler: default
Date:January 14th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 08:40 am (dampscribbler's time)
I'm not playing fair, I answered your poll (well, some of it -- I had to leave others blank due to agreeing the same amount with more than one of the choices), but I don't expect to actually have time to do much commenting/conversating on this thread. I appreciate the conversation that is taking place, though, and I find myself in agreement with lavendersparkle in many ways, if that helps. :)
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
Date:January 14th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry, 07:37 pm (livredor's time)
Totally cool. Just because I want to be provocative by providing a poll with insufficiently nuanced options, doesn't mean everybody is going to have time to dive in to the discussion. I agree with lavendersparkle a lot too; she has a good brain!
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pthalogreen: Gender
Date:January 14th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 05:06 pm (pthalogreen's time)
I suppose it's an effort to get people to comment.

Anyway, I'm not one of the people who buys the whole "female brain" vs. "male brain" thing, especially as used by the general public. It annoys me when women say "oh that's a very male brained thing" when they mean "I don't understand/relate to that at all." If it happens to be something I like/understand, I will say so, calling them on it, because most people who know me see me as female (most strangers see me as male). But most people are happier to admit that it's not a female/male thing after all, than to assign me to a different gender (without my coming out as genderqueer).

But anyway, yes, there are differences between the genders. But they're a lot less pronounced than most people would think. Can you think of a way to finish the sentence "all boys" that would be true for everyone who considers themself a boy? i'd like people to move away from having to obsessively label everything as feminine or masculine. Certainly there are things that are more likely to apply to men than to women and vise-a-versa. But I'm still hesitant to label them as "boys" and "girls".

anyway, that's why answered the way i did for the first two radio buttons (A and B). It's not that I agree 100% with the position i picked, i just agree more with them than the other option. About 60% for "mythical" and 80% for "superficial"
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
Date:January 14th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry, 09:23 pm (livredor's time)
Yeah, I'm totally transparent, I was entirely trolling for comments by making an unfairly black and white poll! But I'm glad you decided to give your thoughts, even if you could see through my unsubtle scheme! It's very useful to have thoughts from someone perceived as male by part of your social circle and female by other parts.

I pretty much agree with your more nuanced answers; I think real differences exist, but they are minor, and statistical rather than true for every individual. At the same time, there's a lot of stupid myths about major differences which don't reflect reality. I agree with you that it's really annoying when everything in the world has to be divided up into masculine and feminine, often completely arbitrarily like pink versus blue.
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Date:January 14th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry
Differences between the sexes - I'm a linguistic clod and reserve the use of the word "gender" to linguistic discussions - are significan and objectively real; I wanted to pick both options on the third question; the fourth question seemed like a trick one to me, and the rest, given my previous answers, seemed rather superflous.

And I'm not entirely sure what you meant by the clodheaded binary gender thingamyjig...
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teapot
Date:January 14th, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry, 09:40 pm (livredor's time)
Because I was deliberately over-simplifying, I left the gender issue out of it, and just assumed there are two sexes, men and women, to see what people would say about that.

The question about whether you should try to be fair or try to reflect reality wasn't a trick question. It was presenting two extremes where I'm sure most people fall somewhere in between, but I do think it's an important meta-question. Like, if women are generally smaller and weaker, should you try to compensate for that by setting lower strength standards for physical jobs (fair), or should you just employ more men in those jobs (realist)? I think the real answer is that it depends what the unfairness is; for example, it's not really sane to argue that men and women should be treated exactly equally when it comes to childbirth. But I think it's not very good for the world to go around saying, women are just naturally hopeless at maths, so we shouldn't bother given them a decent mathematical education.

The ticky-box at the end is kind of an in joke. It comes from the observation that whenever you post a poll, it's going to offend someone terribly because of some implication you didn't think of. So people started including a ticky-box for "You offended me terribly, you insensitive clod". After a while, this ticky-box became increasingly silly, like if someone posted a poll about vegetables, they would include "don't you know that my great-aunt was killed in a traumatic accident with a mutant cucumber, you insensitive clod!" So I included my comment partly as a reference to that silly joke, and partly because I wanted to give people a chance to protest against my terrible assumption that men and women are two distinct categories and that's all there is, without getting bombarded by two dozen comments to that effect.
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jacquic: default
Date:January 14th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC)
6 hours after journal entry
I'm not going to say anything helpful or discussion-worthy here, but simply share something that made me laugh (ish) last week.

I work in accounting, a traditionally male-dominated environment which is now (looking at my office) about 50:50 split in terms of staff (though our partners are mostly men, but that's another story).

Last week I was sitting with my team of eight or nine people in a small meeting room in Swindon. The talk naturally got on to how sensitive people are to criticism, and one of the guys said (roughly) "I'm very sensitive; and lots of the girls I know are really hard-headed, so I don't think there's a gender-bias on sensitivity... I have a very developed feminine side."

He didn't realise what he'd said until I pointed it out.
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
Date:January 14th, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry, 09:42 pm (livredor's time)
Yeah, I can just imagine someone ending up trying to argue simultaneously that there isn't a sharp divide between masculine and feminine characteristics, and that many men have a feminine side. I'm glad you were able to inject some logic into the discussion, though!
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leora: ouroboros
Date:January 14th, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC)
6 hours after journal entry, 01:29 pm (leora's time)
There are differences that are real and significant. There are differences that aren't. There are differences that are too variable (there may be a statistical trend toward women being more FOO but too many women aren't that FOO) that you shouldn't bother with it unless you're a scientist or such.

Generally, I dislike sexist categorizations even when true, because people tend to apply them to individuals before assessing the individual and it biases their perception. I would rather you get to know the person in front of you than the female in front of you.

If you're a doctor, the physical body the person has and its history is vitally important. And the risks are going to vary. And you better take that into account. If you're making a friend, please don't. If you're judging a job applicant, please don't. There are enough exceptions that you're likely to hurt people unfairly.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: p53
Date:January 14th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry, 09:52 pm (livredor's time)
I think that part of the problem is that most people aren't very good at thinking in population or statistical terms. So trends which may be quite real get misused as ways to make judgements about individuals. I think you're right to argue that sexist generalizations are harmful even if based on real facts. And yes, there are definitely some situations, such as medical, where assuming everybody is more or less like men is a really bad plan.
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pw201: default
Date:January 15th, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
11 hours after journal entry, 01:49 am (pw201's time)
wrt C, I think there are some differences that are a product of a particular culture, but I don't think this encompasses all such differences (for instance, men are pretty much always physically stronger, on average), so I ticked the awkward option.

wrt basing decisions on the way things are, again, I'm not against justice, but neither do I think that, say, the requirements for professions which require physical strength should necessarily be relaxed for women. Again, I ticked the awkward option.

"In the society I'm part of" is a bit ambiguous. In the groups where I spend most of my time, I don't think there's a difference. In the UK as a whole, I think women are worse off if they're already disadvantaged for other reasons, but in many ways a middle-class educated woman is better off than a poor, uneducated, man who is better off than a poor, uneducated woman. I'm not convinced the middle class woman is worse off than a middle-class, educated man. In the world as a whole, women are clearly just worse off in some places. Or maybe "the groups where I spend most of my time" is what you meant by the "personal life" one.

As I said in one of the other places recently, reasoning that X must be true because some other desirable thing Y rests on it is invalid, whether X is "there are no essential differences between men and women" and Y is "feminism" or whether X is "creationism" and Y is "my religion/the moral fabric of society". I think there are biologically based differences between men and women, although such research is often badly reported by an incompetent press.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: likeness
Date:January 16th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 03:29 pm (livredor's time)
Thanks for this clarification, if I'd seen just your answers I might concluded you were taking a surprisingly absolutist / essentialist position. But yes, all your arguments make sense, and your apparent absolutism is my fault for creating an unsubtle poll!

I agree that "society I'm part of" is a bit unclear. I left it open for people to interpret, but basically I wanted some generalized grouping of "people like me" rather than "people I know personally". Something a bit narrower than the whole country or the whole world, but something like, people from your country or region, of a roughly similar age and class background. The personal one was meant to be really personal, to allow for the possibility that, for example, society may be generally bad for women, but still good for specific women who want to be housewives or fashion models.

Definitely it's a bad idea to insist on something factually untrue in order to reach a desirable conclusion. I don't think feminism requires that women and men must be exactly identical, all it depends on is the acknowledgement that women are full human beings who are just as much hurt as men by having their liberty restricted, and a belief that justice is important.
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hairyears: default
Date:January 15th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 02:48 am (hairyears's time)

Indiscriminate quotas are just as unfair as indiscriminate hiring bars.


I have problems with the phrase 'going against biology'. A job requiring (say) upper-body strength would generally go to men, as we are generally stronger than women...

...With exceptions who can and should be employed on the same criteria of ability as all others. In the face of clear facts, employing women who are weaker than the available (and stronger) male candidates is just as unfair as excluding any one of the rare (but far from nonexistent) women who are as strong as all but the heftiest of men.

The question, of course, is all in the word 'biology'. If this is science, the use of observation and mathematical logic, then known and measurable differences can and should be used in all decisions. This is an essential condition of fairness.

However, there are few known and measurable gender differences as well known and so clearly measurable as physical strength; and the word 'biology' is used as a catch-all for unexamined gender prejudices that rule against selection and promotion by ability.

If this is the applied meaning of your phrase 'going against biology', a sense that 'biology' is a label for gender prejudice and irrational discrimination, then I am just as much against it as you.

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livredor: ewe
Date:January 16th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 03:40 pm (livredor's time)
I generally agree with your antipathy to things like hiring quotas. I don't think they achieve morally fair results, and I don't think they're fair in themselves. I think a better way to fix job inequality is to encourage women to think of themselves as potential workers in a given male-dominated trade, and give them enough training to get a decently balanced pool of applicants, and then use gender-blind hiring practices.

But let's take your example about strength; are there really a lot of jobs which most men can't do and most women can? I think of my grandfather's cousin, a tiny and extremely feminine woman whose war service consisted of driving huge great military trucks across Europe, the kind that you had to steer by sheer brute strength. I think the exclusion of women from physically demanding jobs is only partly a direct consequence of the fact that women are weaker on average. Given any job which requires strength, there probably are more women than men who absolutely can't do it. But that shouldn't lead to a major gender imbalance, because people who absolutely can't do the job are not really relevant in the hiring pool.

I think everybody would agree that you shouldn't base policy on wrong biology, or pretend that your ridiculous unexamined prejudices are scientific. But there definitely are some cases where biology gives women as a group a natural disadvantage, even if people may argue about exactly how many situations fall under that heading.
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cartesiandaemon: default
Date:January 15th, 2009 11:02 am (UTC)
21 hours after journal entry
"What this journal needs is more controversy"
"I'm not at all certain of that" <-- joke
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